Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Chile's president apologizes, protests continue (Oct. 23, 2019)

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera apologized for his administration's misunderstanding of widespread anger that has spurred violent protests in the country over the past six days. He announced a set of conciliatory measures -- wage increases for the poorest and tax increases for the richest -- aimed at defusing the leaderless, spontaneous protests and violence in which 18 people have died so far. His tone yesterday evening was a striking change from earlier declarations that the country was at war. Piñera also rolled back announced electricity tariff hikes and will slash salaries for lawmakers and government officials. (Guardian, El País)

But the measures are unlikely to satisfy protesters who are demanding more systemic change, according to the New York Times. The term floating around is a new social contract, "the longer it takes the government to understand this, the harder it will be to get out of this catastrophe," argues Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser in the Guardian.

Unions joined protesters and called a general strike for today and tomorrow. Página 12 gives a look beyond the rioting and looting, at how citizens are organizing peaceful protests and resistance measures.

Security forces were involved in at least five of the protest-related deaths, several victims were shot. The National Human Rights Institute has presented 21 claims representing 53 citizens -- including two alleged cases of sexual violence against women detained in police stations. The organization said 269 people have been wounded in protests, 137 by firearms. The National Human Rights Institute said 1,894 people have been arrested in relation to protests since last Thursday. (EFE)

Images circulated by credible sources show members of the military beating protesters already under arrest and a man who appeared to be just standing on the street, as well as a man being thrown out of the back of an official van while it was moving, reports Human Rights Watch.

Yesterday riot police used teargas and water cannon on Tuesday to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several parts of the capital, Santiago, while soldiers and police guarded Chileans who formed long lines at supermarkets. About half of Chile's regions remained under an emergency decree and some, including Santiago, were subject to a military curfew.

Though Piñera sought to meet with opposition leaders yesterday, the Communist Party and the leftist Frente Amplio refused to participate while troops remain on the streets, reports El País.

Wake up and smell the coffee, says the New York Times editorial board to Piñera: "There is certainly no evidence of an organized movement, or even a coherent agenda. The protesters’ rage is born of the frustrations of everyday life. Chileans live in a society of extraordinary economic disparities."

OAS might verify Bolivian vote tally

Bolivian President Evo Morales declared a state of emergency and said political opponents are staging a coup d'état. The move today comes amid ongoing protests against a questioned vote tally that has Morales within reach of winning a fourth term. Morales criticized protest violence since the election, which he blamed on the right-wing opposition and what he described as their foreign backers, reports Reuters.

Morales asked the Organization of American States to verify a vote recount. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said the organization would do so if the results are binding. El País reports that Bolivia's government has not yet answered.

Vote counting appears stalled: as of this morning the official count has Morales with 46.4 percent, while his closest opponent, Carlos Mesa, has 37.07 percent. Morales must have a 10 point lead or over 50 percent to win outright.

The vice president of Bolivia's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Antonio Costas, resigned yesterday. He said the temporary suspension of the public reporting of election results discrediting of the entire electoral process, and pushed protests. (Washington Post)

Regardless of what actually happened when electoral authorities temporarily suspended reporting vote tallies on Sunday -- only to resume a day later with a reversed trend in favor of Morales -- the result has been to cast doubt on an election that already had underlying issues.

News Briefs

  • Haitian Catholic leaders held a march in Port-au-Prince yesterday, calling for a resolution to the political crisis and sweeping reform. Thousands joined yesterday's peaceful march, in the midst of the sixth week of violent anti-government protests, reports Reuters. They gathered outside one of the main churches in Port-au-Prince and denounced President Jovenel Moise as corrupt and incompetent, reports AFP.
  • U.S. officials cite a 96 percent reduction in people living in Haitian internal displacement camps as proof that Haitian nationals don't need a special protection program that allows them to temporarily live in the U.S. But The Intercept found that the numbers are misleading: "We found that the vast majority of these earthquake-displaced Haitians still do not have safe or adequate shelter and are now living in informal settlements where they lack access to basic services. Many of them, far from voluntarily leaving the camps, were violently evicted."
  • Brazilian senators overwhelmingly approved a landmark pension reform bill that is expected to save save taxpayers as much as $200 billion over 10 years, reports the Wall Street Journal. It is a significant victory for President Jair Bolsonaro, who is expected to sign the legislation into law in the next few days.
  • Basic questions about the oil sludge that has contaminated over 1,000 km of Brazil's northern beaches remain unanswered: where is it coming from? How can it be stopped? In the meantime, as volunteers team up to clean, the month-long mystery has become the Bolsonaro administration's latest environmental scandal, and the president's strategy of attempting to blame Venezuela seems to have backfired in public opinion, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Bolsonaro's presidency has made Brazil's longstanding countercultural music scene more determined than ever -- Guardian.
  • Starved for foreign currency, Venezuela's Maduro administration is loosening food export regulations, reports Reuters.
  • Mexican security forces were not only outnumbered by cartel gunmen in Culiacán last week, they were also defeated in terms of military logistics, argues Francisco Cuamea in the Post Opinión
  • Mexican security forces detained 31 alleged members of Unión Tepito, Mexico City's biggest drug trafficking organization, reports El País.
  • Mexican businesses are hopeful cannabis regulation could lead to a “green economy boom” in Mexico, according EFE.
  • At least 21 Damas de Blanco were detained in Cuba on Sunday, part of a growing wave of repression against human rights activists, according to CubaNet.
  • Another former FARC fighter was assassinated in Colombia, ahead of regional elections on Sunday that have been marked by a slew of violence against social leaders and candidates. (Nodal)
  • Colombian artist Doris Salcedo explores the meaning of her monument to peace, in a country where that peace is unraveling -- New York Times.
  • By giving water sources a multidimensional presence in her videos and images printed onto fabric, Colombian artist Carolina Caycedo hopes to reorient our relationship to the natural world and the earth’s water supply, reports the New York Times.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

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